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Posts Tagged ‘Television’

Who’s your audience? At what cost?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, design, entertainment, journalism, men, Money, movies, news on February 25, 2013 at 8:04 pm

If you missed last night’s Oscars, lucky you!

I watched Seth MacFarlane as host — and yes, I had to Google him — and thought “Seriously?” I found him crude, sophomoric (freshmanic? even better) and deeply off-putting.

English: Seth MacFarlane at the 2010 Comic Con...

English: Seth MacFarlane at the 2010 Comic Con in San Diego (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not, however, the demographic the Academy Awards producers so desperately crave, 18 to 49 year old men. By hiring MacFarlane, and larding the show with sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic “jokes”, they thought for sure they had a win.

And they did.

But for every teen boy yukking it up out there, a million others, men and women of all ages, were tweeting and Facebooking their shock and disgust throughout, and after, the show.

Sure, grow your audience…

At what cost?

From msn.money.com:

Seth MacFarlane was full of surprises when he hosted the Oscar awards show last night. This morning came another one: TV ratings for the 85th celebration of Hollywood’s love affair with the movies were up over last year in the key 18- to 49-year-old demographic.

Early tallies for the show say it earned a 12.1 rating for that group, up more than from 3% from last year’s final 11.7 figure, according to a report in Broadcasting & Cable, citing preliminary figures from Nielsen. Entertainment Weekly notes that total ratings for the Oscars also probably rose over last year’s show hosted by Billy Chrystal. Final ratings, which may be different, will be released by Nielsen later today.

If these ratings hold, it will be a pleasant surprise for ABC and its corporate parent Walt Disney (DIS +0.22%).Some had wondered whether MacFarlane, whose TV shows and movies appeal largely to men, would turn off the mostly female Oscar audience. His song-and-dance number celebrating actresses who have shown their breasts on the silver screen may have offended some, but it was tame stuff by MacFarlane’s standards.

Best known as the creator of “Family Guy,” MacFarlane got mixed reviews for his performance.

Best Actress Academy Awards

Best Actress Academy Awards (Photo credit: cliff1066™)

For Broadside, an unpaid gig, I want an engaged, civil conversation with smart, global, interesting people. I have them! Yay, you!

For my books, I want readers of all ages simply open to new ideas, especially those interested in a new spin on old narratives — whether gun use or low-wage labor. Fortunately, I’ve found them as well.

When I write on business for The New York Times, I want readers to enjoy, think, argue, share. My stories are consistently the third most read and emailed of the entire Sunday paper. So, I’m pleased that my fairly careful targeting of the audience I seek is indeed out there.

But the pursuit of the Big Bucks, in many fields, means lowering the bar — of taste, execution, style, content, tone or intelligence.

It’s not a trade-off I’m willing to make.

How about you?

Who is your audience?

How do you try to win and keep and grow them?

Does it involve making trade-offs between your personal ethics and principles — and making a decent living?

Why I’m not watching much TV these days

In behavior, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, television on December 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm
NBC Nightly News broadcast

NBC Nightly News broadcast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The TV listings in my local paper, The New York Times, have 106 channels, including nine premium cable.

In the past month, I’ve turned the television on maybe four or five times. I wish I could say I miss it terribly, but I don’t. My TV fast began in June when I house-sat in Vermont, with a screen that needed three remotes, none of which I understood. Instead, I went to a barbecue, a minor league baseball game and read.

You know, books.

It continued at my Dad’s house when I was house-sitting in late September. I’d light a fire — a luxury we don’t have at home — eat dinner on the coffee table and settle in with a huge stack of unread magazines. I didn’t miss TV at all.

I normally watch NBC Nightly News every evening at 6:30, fully aware that it’s a narrow, slick, over-produced reduction of what’s happening in the world. Foreign news is almost unheard of in the United States, except for wars affecting U.S. interests and huge natural disasters. If you want a clue that the world beyond the U.S. exists, you need to follow  BBC and consume on-line media from other countries.

I often follow the news with Jeopardy, (a quiz show in the U.S., for which I qualified in 2006, but was never called to appear.) My granny used to watch it, so it’s something of a tradition. I also want to stay in trim as I plan to try out again on my next visit to L.A. The host is Alex Trebek, a fellow Canadian, who once hosted a Canadian quiz show for high school students called Reach For The Top. I was on our school’s team two years in a row and helped take us to the quarter finals.

I enjoy What Not To Wear (which helps you figure out how to dress better) and Project Runway. I avoid all talk shows and political coverage, as I get plenty of that from my print and on-line sources already. How many opinions do I want to hear every day?
The TV stays dark most of the time right now because I’m burned out on the hyper-stimulation, the silliness, the repetition and its incredible time-suck.

I do watch movies, often, and eagerly await the January start, here in the U.S., of the third season of Downton Abbey.

I recently discovered “Wallander”, the original series in Swedish, shot in a town of 18,000 in southern Sweden, and loved it. I was so struck, in one episode, by the dominance of a very specific color, a deep teal — in clothing, wall colors, the evening sky, upholstery. I love the differences in every detail: the cars, the light, the landscape, even the electrical outlets. (I think I need to do some overseas travel soon!)

I had seen the British version, starring Kenneth Branagh, but much prefer the Swedish one.

But here’s a sampling of shows on offer — and why I’m able to resist:

The American Bible Challenge

Jersey Shore

Shocking Hip Hop Moments

High School football

Death Row

Annoying

The Real Housewives of Miami

I’m reading a lot more books. Talking to my husband and friends. Calmer and less distracted.

One friend, whose boys are two and six, limits their entire weekly screen time — including anything with a screen — to one hour every Friday night. Imagine.

Inspired by her discipline, I’m also trying to severely reduce the time I spend staring into any screen, whether phone, Ipad, computer or TV.

In the past few weeks, I’ve re-discovered a lost pleasure, that of diving into a book and disappearing in it for uninterrupted hours. I read, and loved two novels, “The Expats”, by Chris Pavone and Richard Ford’s newest, “Canada.”

Here’s a review of the season’s hottest three new shows, according to New York magazine. I haven’t seen any of them.

Do you watch much TV?

What are you watching these days?

Why We Love (Or Hate) Downton Abbey

In culture, design, domestic life, entertainment, life, television, women on January 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm
Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey Image via Wikipedia

The big deal here in the U.S. these days is a series being shown on PBS called Downton Abbey, filmed at a breathtaking enormous and beautiful country house, and centred on an aristocratic British family at the start of World War I.

It’s also created some controversy, as the larger cultural dialogue here is also increasingly focused on the 99% versus the 1%, i.e. the wealthy versus…the rest of us.

Why are we all eagerly watching a show about lazy rich people?

I admit to really enjoying DA, and look forward to it every week. Some fellow New Yorkers are even having British-themed parties and dinners to celebrate watching the show together, from Pimms cups to Eton mess.

Here are the reasons I like it, and think millions of others do as well:

Who doesn’t crave a life of leisure? Seriously. As Americans slog through their third recession in 20 years, millions out of work and losing their homes and trying to get a new job, never having to work ever again at all looks mighty alluring. We can easily resent today’s plutocrats, but watching long-dead British aristos lounge about? Not so much.

The production values! Anyone who loves beautiful design and vintage objects is loving the elaborate costumes and set design.

We can still identify with and cheer for the women’s wish for a less-constricted life. It’s an interesting plot line to watch all the women, servants and their employers, struggle to re-define themselves as workers, voters, something more than decorative or drudges.

Meals, eaten together. I don’t need footmen or candleabra, but I do love eating my meals seated at a proper dining table with linen napkins and china. In an era when so many families eat microwaved junk, fast food or rarely eat a meal at the same table together, the banter and baiting that happens at the Abbey dinner table is central to the story.

The Granthams have character flaws. Republican candidate Mitt Romney —  worth an estimated quarter of a billion dollars, paying only 15 percent tax on his income and refusing to reveal his income tax returns — leaves many voters are deeply uneasy with his hail-fellow facade and his photogenic posse of handsome sons and blond daughters-in-law. We know there’s dirt in there somewhere; on Downton Abbey, those beautifully dressed and bejeweled sisters hiss and scratch at one another like…some sisters really do.

There’s never a mention of religion. Thank God! It’s interesting that none of the Grantham family, nor their servants, ever attend church or show anything resembling a spiritual life, ensuring no viewer can tune out for them professing the wrong faith. Whatever else the Granthams do, they’re not spouting pious platitudes, (like those Republican millionaire candidates), about how much they love God.

They talk to — and listen to — their servants on a personal level. Completely unrealistic, but makes for a set of relationships that go beyond silent, servile hair-brushing and silver-polishing.

They gainfully employ, house and feed a dozen adults. I’m in no way romanticizing the servants’ life below stairs! But when the valet Bates offers to leave — and is offered two months’ wages — we gape in envy. Virtually no American worker can rely on even a day’s severance pay, even after decades of loyalty to their employer. Given the growing and persistent income inequality now dividing American society, a family actually employing, feeding and housing workers seems a welcome anomaly. (They exist here. We just don’t hear much about them.)

So that’s how the 1% really think. In an era when we’re obsessed with the wealthy — and our irrelevance to them politically and economically –a television show offering a peek behind the velvet curtain allows us to eavesdrop on their private lives and pillow talk.

We already feel like servants. Many of the Republicans now running for President in the U.S. are so wealthy it’s absurd;  Mitt Romney has spent $35 million of his own money so far. Many of us feel as distant, and irrelevant, to these men  — who want to represent us politically — as DA’s servants do to their employers. Yet the servants at Downton share physical space with their employers, while today’s wealthy usually live very far away from the many minions tending to their needs. $35 million of disposable income? The toffs of DA look like pikers in comparison.

Here’s a published dust-up over the show — their knickers in a serious twist, as the Brits might say — between historian Simon Schama and creator Julian Fellowes.

Here’s a recent radio interview with John Lunn, the composer of the show’s music.

And a post about DA by a fellow fan.

If you’ve seen it, what do you think?

The Next Chapter Of “Malled” — A Possible CBS Sitcom

In blogging, books, business, entertainment, journalism, life, television, women, work on August 23, 2011 at 1:08 am

There I was, sitting on the sofa at 10:00 p.m. watching a too-violent movie on HBO, when I read three emails congratulating me, including one from the veteran TV writer who’ll be writing a script based on my new book; if it’s accepted, the next step is to cast and film a network television pilot.

Shriek!

I was hired on September 25, 2007 to work for $11/hr. as a sales associate for The North Face. I quit on December 18, 2009, knowing I had a contract to write a memoir of what it’s like to really work retail. The result, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was the result, and was published April 14, 2o11.

So, how did all this happen?

And so quickly?

My agent, the day we first met in June 2009 — months before we sold the proposal — said: “You know, this would make a terrific sitcom.” I agreed. I wasn’t surprised by her idea; growing up in family who worked in television and film I know that networks are always seeking good new material.

As the book neared publication date, I began getting emails from a variety of entertainment companies asking who my agent was. I confess, the first one I read I assumed must be a hoax. I quickly learned this interest was real and serious.

On my birthday, June 6, I got on the phone to grill my two agents about the many items in the contract I didn’t understand and which are very different from a contract for a magazine story or a non-fiction book. Then (lucky enough to have family connections in the industry) I called someone in Toronto who referred me to her experienced entertainment lawyer to review it all.

It all felt a little surreal.

I love the irony that, after eight days at a Buddhist retreat discussing and pondering the nature of the self, I was on the phone discussing which actress might play “me” in the show.

It’s a long road to that possibility, but this is the next step.

Fingers crossed!

Star-Struck!

In behavior, books, business, entertainment, journalism, Media, men, television, urban life, work on June 2, 2011 at 7:19 pm
Anderson Cooper marching on January 11, 2007 i...

Yup, that's the one! Image via Wikipedia

So, I just came out of a television studio in Toronto about 90 minutes ago, after a 30-minute live show hosted by business journalist Howard Green, where I talked about Malled, my new book, with two retail industry experts.

Winding down, I came down the stairs and headed for the exit. A slim handsome white-haired man in a very nice navy blue suit stood in the way.

No. Couldn’t be…here, in Toronto? Why?

Anderson Cooper.

Shriek!

I was hopelessly star-struck and introduced myself and the publicist for Penguin (why did I not have copy of my book to hand him?!) and said “Keep up the good work.”

Sigh. Doofus.

(What a thrill!)

Which Big Names have you encountered face to face like that?

What did you say or do?

Ditch Your Stuff!

In behavior, business, Money on August 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm
my own picture, to be added to cookware and ba...
Image via Wikipedia

We recently spent three eight-hour days doing the job we had put off for a decade — clearing out our rented storage locker. (Confession: some of it went into a smaller space, the rest of it into the garage. And, yes, there are four small lockers with other stuff — out of season sports gear and clothing, suitcases, etc.)

In so doing, we immediately saved $150 a month in rental fees, plus the $350 we netted for selling 24 boxes of books.

Here’s a thoughtful New York Times piece about what museums, so politely call, de-accessioning:

A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people.

Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. Working as a project manager with an investment management firm in Davis, Calif., and making about $40,000 a year, she was, as she put it, caught in the “work-spend treadmill.”

So one day she stepped off.

Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. As the months passed, out went stacks of sweaters, shoes, books, pots and pans, even the television after a trial separation during which it was relegated to a closet. Eventually, they got rid of their cars, too. Emboldened by a Web site that challenges consumers to live with just 100 personal items, Ms. Strobel winnowed down her wardrobe and toiletries to precisely that number.

Now the couple, debt-free, lives on $24,000 a year.

It’s not a new idea, living on less, although it’s rapidly gaining currency. In a 1992 book, “Your Money Or Your Life”, Joe Dominguez and Vicky Robin pointed out you’re spending time or you’re spending money. Save one, and you save the other.

I’ve chosen, deliberately, to stay in a one bedroom apartment for 20 years. In flush years, I could have traded up to something bigger, maybe even a house. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want: to buy a lot of stuff to fill it with; maintain and clean all that stuff; clean gutters and shovel sidewalks or mow a lawn; the daily anxiety that, if I lost that job or income or client(s), I’d lose it all. Even in the leanest times, and they have gotten lean, I could manage to stay in my home, building equity.

I loathe debt.

We drive a nine-year-old car, paid for.  We are trying hard to find new and better ways to earn and save in order to pay down the mortgage as soon as possible. In line with popular sentiment, we’re now much more focused on experiences over stuff. We threw a party and invited friends to celebrate the completion of my book. The money we spent for food and drink that night might have bought two of three pairs of shoes or 10 new or 20 used books or CDs or…more stuff.

These days, I want more life and less stuff in my life.

And yet, and yet…how does one turn a blind eye to all those delicious temptations?

Have you downsized? Plan to? How has this changed your life?

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Snooki Who? Reality Stars Demand Big Bucks For Being Themselves

In business, entertainment on July 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 12:  (L-R) TV Perso...

She's the short one...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Laughing all the way to the bank, reality television stars  — who begin as no-names hired for peanuts — are demanding real TV money, reports The New York Times:

Fame soon found them, and so did the desire for fortune. This summer, the stars of “Jersey Shore” held out for more money before resuming production in Seaside Heights last week. Together, they shared about $25,000 as a cast for the entire first season; now they will reportedly earn at least that much for each episode. The series will resume Thursday night on MTV, part of Viacom.

Reality television became a force because viewers liked it and because, without celebrities or big salaries, it was cheap. The shows can cost as little as $200,000 for a half-hour episode, compared with the $1 million or more typical for hourlong scripted shows.

But now the genre is creating its own stars on shows like “Jersey Shore,” “The City” on MTV and the “Real Housewives” franchise on Bravo. With stars come demands for higher salaries, threatening the inexpensive economic model of reality TV. Are the shows falling victim to their own success?

Network executives say no, but they concede they are constantly on guard against that possibility. They strive to make shows grow proportionally: as the salaries grow, the ratings and the rates paid by advertisers must grow in lockstep. When the proportions break down, cancellation can loom.

I love the irony.

Nobodies get plucked from obscurity because of where they live and/or what they say or do or wear — whether pompadour hair or cat-fighting over whose husband is richer — and turn into the latest crop of celebrities, without which the TV industrial complex is potentially hit-less.

Then, as viewers find their “real” bizarreness addictive, and the nobodies become somebodies, they start realizing their commercial value — and demand some serious coin. As they should.

I think it serves greedy TV execs right. “Exposure” per se isn’t worth much to most of us, despite daily offers — increasingly common now in journalism — to work or write or perform for no, or very little, pay so millions of people can read/see your stuff and….and, what?

Hire you? Pay you tons more money? Riiiiiiiiight.

The standard disclaimer is that all that “exposure” leads to “opportunities.” Maybe. Maybe not. Why should we gamble our time, energy and talent for pennies?

Last time I checked, Con Ed and Verizon and my mortgage-holder do not accept “exposure” as payment for any of their services. The naive and stupid take this argument and accept it in lieu of useful, practical legal tender.

I like cold, hard cash.

Snooki and her ilk should too.

Pamela Anderson, Enlisted By PETA, Freaks Out Montreal Censors

In cities, women on July 16, 2010 at 12:55 pm
Pamela Anderson

Image via Wikipedia

File this one under weird.

Montreal, a city hardly known for its prudishness, has shut down an event featuring a poster featuring Pamela Anderson in a bikini, her curves marked like a side of beef — cuisse (thigh), epaule (shoulder), pied (foot) — with the slogan: “All animals have the same parts — go vegetarian.”

Reports the National Post:

”I have to inform you that we, as public officials representing a municipal government, cannot endorse this image of Ms. Anderson,” an official for the Montreal Film and TV Commission wrote to PETA. “It is not so much controversial as it goes against all principles public organizations are fighting for in the everlasting battle of equality between men and women.”

Bye Bye Betty!

In entertainment, women, work on April 14, 2010 at 7:56 am
Ugly Betty

Image via Wikipedia

I’m not a huge TV person, but tonight will say goodbye to one of the very few characters I’ve loved, and a rarity on primetime, a Hispanic woman — Ugly Betty.

If you love journalism and have ever spent time working in New York, the show’s plotlines and characters, and exterior shots, will likely have resonated for you as well. She was hardworking, funny, fiercely devoted to her family, constantly bullied by her co-workers (before they grew up) and still managed to climb the greasy pole of success.

There are few prime-time network shows that respectfully and engagingly portray a Hispanic family and reveal the real conflict that many young Latina working women feel between loyalty to their domestic life and a hunger for larger success. Hispanics still have the lowest rate of college attendance and graduation and, when I wrote about this issue for The New York Times, heard firsthand from a number of young Latinas about the opposing demands placed on them by family and ambition.

[daylifegallery id="1271256433508"]

On most television shows, the adult characters seem to have been raised by wolves — their family of origin a Thanksgiving or holiday punchline at most. The central theme of Ugly Betty was often family and how much they can still matter, even to a young adult in a demanding job.

I look forward to tonight’s final episode, but will miss her (and Justin and Wilhelmina and Daniel and their adventures.) Adios chica!

Here's Twitter's Top 25 Media News 'Insiders' — 21 Male, 24 White

In Media, Technology on April 6, 2010 at 9:37 am

Are you media obsessed?

Here, according to Hollywood-focused website TheWrap, are the top 25 insiders to follow on Twitter.

Funny thing — almost all of them are Caucasian (one Arab-American) and all but four are male.

No one of color has anything smart to add? No more women than this? Yawn.

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